Getting treatment—the right treatment—for OCD ranks really high (okay, let’s say it’s number one) on the list of how to take charge of the disorder and live your life according to your values. What’s helped me a lot, too, is simply knowing there are therapists who care about us and go above and beyond to help us feel supported. Jenna Overbaugh is one of those therapists. She’ll get her message of hope to you somehow, whether it’s on Instagram, through her newsletter, on her podcast “All the Hard Things,” or through treatment sessions. Let’s learn more about Jenna!
You’re a therapist for NOCD, meaning you can see clients in an online session instead of in person. How did you decide to work with NOCD? What do you consider the benefits of online therapy?
I decided to work for NOCD during COVID once I realized that there would be an increased need for services during the pandemic. I love that they provide ERP in a way that’s accessible and more affordable than traditional routes of therapy. I loved the training they provided for incoming clinicians and wanted to be part of their mission. There are tons of benefits to online therapy including greater accessibility and also the ability to do exposures from home, which are sometimes where one’s biggest triggers take place. It also allows therapists to see people from a larger area rather than just those who can commute easily to their office.
How did you decide to focus on treating OCD?
I’ve always wanted to work with people who have OCD and anxiety because I grew up as an anxious child. My earliest memories were about being anxious—in school, before school, before talking to someone new. But I always knew that I wanted to challenge myself and go for it, so to speak. When I learned that this was an actual treatment intervention for OCD and anxiety during my Introduction to Psych course in college, I knew it was for me and I started to research it as much as I could.
What do you consider the most common misconception about OCD?
To me the greatest misconception about OCD is that it has to do with cleanliness, germs, or a desire to have things be perfect. It’s so much more than that. I wish people knew that it has the potential to be an extremely debilitating disorder and it’s so much more than what we typically hear people talking about. The taboo thoughts and the shameful images and urges are the ones that no one talks about but we need to be talking more about.
Let’s say a client says, “You can’t possibly help me—I have the worst type of OCD ever, and I don’t think there are any practical exposures for it.” How would you respond?
If someone said that to me I would say that there are always practical exposures for any kind of anxiety or obsessions. Are you avoiding? Are you ritualizing—whether that’s mental or behavioral or both? Then there are opportunities for exposures. The only purpose of an exposure is to put someone in a situation so they can practice not giving in to rituals. So if you’re avoiding, if you’re doing rituals—there are opportunities for exposures and therefore the opportunity to teach your brain new information.
I love your Instagram posts! They’re relatable and funny, and so many are really touching—I get the feeling that not only do you understand OCD, you care a lot about folks who have it. What made you decide to advocate for OCD awareness on that platform?
Thank you! I love doing it. It’s a way to be creative in a field that otherwise feels pretty structured and scientific. I’ve always thought I was pretty creative, I always loved art and especially digital art. I used to make my own websites all the time, I especially love teaching people and I feel like I’m pretty decent at public speaking—so social media came naturally to me. It started out just as fun and I promised myself I would never put too much pressure on myself. I still only ever just have fun with it and try to measure my success based on how much fun I’m having—rather than number of followers, etc.
Speaking of Instagram posts I love, I want to thank you for “How to Do Exposures Without a Therapist.” Even with therapy options like NOCD there are still barriers to treatment for a lot of people, and I hate the idea that people who can’t get therapy might think there’s simply no hope for them. Can you tell us why you wrote that post, and why you prefaced it with “Hi please don’t @ me because you think doing exposures is dangerous without the guidance and supervision of a trained therapist”?
When I made the post a few months ago, 95 percent of people loved it and were so appreciative of the practical tips I provided. Some people, however, came back saying that my suggestion was “dangerous” suggesting that people cannot be trusted or should not be given the feedback to do their own exposures without the supervision and guidance of a therapist. My thought is that, when they’re given ample amount of tools and education and empowerment—like I provide on social and on my podcast—that certainly is better than doing nothing, or continuing to give into OCD by ritualizing and making OCD worse at every turn. I know so many people don’t have access to a therapist but are desperate to try something on their own. I believe I provide (and other therapists too) provide so many awesome resources for free that they can take a post I made like the one you’re referencing and make that just one of the many things they try to implement to try to do something to mess with OCD’s pattern.
If you could offer just one piece of advice to someone with OCD, what would it be?
I would encourage them to do the opposite of what OCD wants them to do. For the most part this will be the best decision for your OCD recovery journey. Also to think of OCD as the doubt disorder—it is the tolerance of uncertainty. You don’t have a cleaning problem, you don’t have a germs problem, you don’t have a fear of harming your family problem—you have a problem tolerating uncertainty and doubt.